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Book review: 'The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August' by Claire North

Oklahoman Modified: August 8, 2014 at 6:04 pm •  Published: August 10, 2014

“The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August” by Claire North (Redhook Books, 405 pages, in stores)

This is an extraordinary story. Claire North, ostensibly the writer of the book, is actually Catherine Webb, a Carnegie Medal-nominated author whose first book, “Mirror Dreams,” was written when she was only 14 years old. She wrote seven more young adult novels and a series of fantasy novels for adults under the pseudonym Kate Griffin.

Harry August in on his deathbed. Again. No matter what he does, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child, with all the knowledge of a life he has lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.

He dies a natural death in his first life. He commits suicide in his second. In his third life, he discovers the Cronus Club. He finds there are others like him, and their kind are called “kalachakra” or “ouroborans.” They are immortal, being born again and again and again. Their cardinal rule is not interfering with history. This is difficult, since Harry’s life span occurs in the 1940s, when Hitler comes to power.

Harry soon discovers that his life is insignificant. He has studied everything that interests him and learned every language. But he hasn’t distinguished himself in any way.

At the end of his 11th life, a little girl appears at his bedside. She says, “I nearly missed you, Doctor August. I need to send a message.” Her message is that the world is ending soon — very soon. Decades earlier, in his 12th life, he passes the message on to the Cronus Club, but they see no cause for alarm.

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